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Easing Back Into the World

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 05/21/2018 - 09:26
Here are some lovely photos I took whilst I was away from the world. Enjoy! Hope you had a good week.

A "fourth political theory?" Persuasive propaganda... for simpletons.

Contrary Brin - Sun, 05/20/2018 - 17:17
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I'll reiterate some familiar themes in the 2nd half of today's missive, raising the spectre of the "Greatest Generation," and re-introducing my one-page bill that might restore some faith in honest government.  But first...

... let's expose one of the worst memes being spread by the oligarchs' propaganda machine. It starts with an "of course" assumption that's an insidiously vile lie.

 == What's old is new ==
Shills on today's U.S. right -- the same folk who brought us "the Fourth Turning" and "Deep State" -- are now throwing roses at the feet of Alexander Dugin, a bona fide monster, sometimes called "Putin's Brain." I do recommend getting to know him! Because  studying this fellow's technique will teach you a lot about the low art of agitprop, including a clever trick; promote an untruth by assuming it as a given. 

Dugin - and his many followers on today's were-right - claim to advance a “fourth political theory” beyond three they say ruled the 20th Century -- liberalism, communism and fascism. All three failed, they assert, hoping you'll nod your head and perk your ears, ready for a fresh alternative. A New Hope.

In fact, their Fourth Way is the same "Decline of the West" bull-puckey pushed for a century by every right-wing pseudosmart jerk from Oswald Spengler to Alan Bloom to David Gelernter to... this Dugin character, who promotes as "new" a style of governance as old as dust. Extolled as "time-tested traditionalism," it dominated 99% of past human cultures, failing every "test" of decency, fairness, or actual outcomes. 

The Fourth political theory is Feudalism. And it never went away, across vast swathes of the globe. Arguably, fascism and communism were variations: self-chosen elites crushing all opposition by force, under the figleaf banner of some religion or ideology.
It is gangsterism by those with money and swords, the theocrats and lords who stole everything from our ancestors while repressing science and fair competition. Only after Adam Smith denounced its horrific record of bad governance, and the American Revolution restarted the Periclean experiment, did we learn how thoroughly loathsome and discredited feudalism is. Our modernist, flat-fair-open system has accomplished more than any other... than all others, combined.
Yet, the urge to re-establish feudalism simmers and roils in the loins of every second rater who inherited daddy's silver spoon.  And they hire gifted svengalis to spin tales to undermine our confidence in flat-fair-open-scientific-rational and pragmatic enlightenment. These would-be oligarchs and lords and theocrats and kings need to be stopped, cold, the way 250 years of our ancestors stopped them. They are enemies of all human hope and any possibility that our grandchildren may inherit the stars.
When I was in Russia last month, I told an audience... "Your parents were wrong about a lot of things... but not about EVERY thing." Marx saw clearly what Adam Smith saw... and Pericles... that human nature propels the powerful and owners and kings and priests and oligarchs to use their advantages to cheat. Marx believed there was no way out but utter class war, that is, after the means of production were completed.
Heck, it may yet come to that. (On his 200th anniversary, Karl Marx is being bought and read more than any time since the 1980s). But Adam Smith saw another possibility: that dynamic competition and freedom and flat-reciprocal accountability might be solutions, less easily corrupted than class war. The radical revolutionaries of 1789, 1917 and 1949 went with the "Marxist" notion, because his incantations provided excuse for them to become the next wave of feudal cheaters! 
The U.S. moderate-progressive revolution tried Smith's approach... and it has worked better than anything since Periclean Athens. Than every other thing. Combined.
“Fourth path? My shiny metal…. Oh, you lying feudalist monsters.

== Drain the "swamp" with professional swamp drainers. ==

There are currently more than 70 federal inspectors general, one serving as ‘watchdog’ in nearly every national agency, though some positions are currently vacant. George Washington’s inspector general, Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben is memorialized in a statue in Lafayette Square across from the White House. (See the hilarious Danny Kaye movie “The Inspector General.)
NPR reports: "Perhaps the most important principle for every inspector general is ensuring our independence from the agencies we oversee, so that we can be effective watchdogs over them," Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz said. ‘It was Horowitz's office that investigated (former high FBI official) McCabe. He's also been involved in some other high-profile probes at the department, including former FBI Director James Comey's handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation and whether or not the Justice Department improperly obtained a warrant to surveil Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. Horowitz said he could not comment on any of the ongoing investigations.’  Busy guy.  So is the Inspector General at Scott Pruitt’s EPA.
"Peter Tyler of the Project On Government Oversight argues that the duties of inspectors general are more important than ever, and they "do really good work, but the question is, does anybody listen?"
This article barely scratches the surface. The IG system is a blessing that has vastly more potential for good than is currently utilized. Indeed, the present system is inherently endangered by conflict of interest, with the IG in each agency having to hold accountable the person he or she works for. 
I’ve long proposed a simple solution that could be legislated on just one piece of paper, in a few paragraphs, transferring all departmental Inspectors General and their staffs to serve under a new official, the Inspector General of the United States, or IGUS. With cabinet-level rank and free to attend cabinet meetings, IGUS would nevertheless be independently appointed, serving outside presidential control.
See my writeup on IGUS. If this happened, public trust in government would rise. It’s not the only such measure that’s called for - (I propose others) - but it's possibly the simplest and easiest to implement on a near horizon.  
And see where I incorporated this proposal in THE FACT ACT.
== Selling influence ==
Alas, under the present regime, “swamp” creatures don’t even try to hide the vampirism. For example, interim director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Mick Mulvaney bragged to banking industry executives and lobbyists last month that they should increase their campaign donations to influence lawmakers, revealing that when he was in Congress he would "meet only with lobbyists who contributed to his campaign.”
Our representatives don’t view themselves as our representatives — they view themselves as representing the interests of their funders. And it’s not the first time one of them has let that truth slip out. Republican Rep. Chris Collins of New York, for example, revealed his donors told him to get the tax bill passed “or don’t ever call me again.”
What? You shrug that this is just another daily assault upon the republic... a new normal? Well, don’t get outrage fatigue! Sure, the America has been losing this phase of the recurring American Civil War. But we may be on the cusp of our Gettysburg, this November, when the Confederacy of Dunces gets pushed back by a resurgent Union. 

Instead of shrugging, join groups who can take a little cash and maybe a tad of your time, and multiply it thousands fold. For example, contribute $5 to Lawrence Lessig’s campaign to get money out of politics.

Or pick some "ostrich republican" who suckles fox-rationalizations in order to stay loyal to the madness, but who is basically a good soul. Choose one and cling!  Be tenacious, pulling his or her head out of the sand of denial.  Normal rules of courtesy do not apply, when nation, civilization, humanity and planet hang in the balance.  I - one by one - we peel away just 5 million residually sane American conservatives, the Confederacy will lose this round of our civil war.
Use their own slogan!  The "MAGA" crowd supposedly reveres the "great" time of the 1950s. But our parents in the Greatest Generation would slap every Fox-cultist. The folks who survived the Depression, crushed Hitler, contained communism, went to the moon, ended Jim Crow, built the greatest economy in history... and whose favorite (adored) living person was Franklin... Delano...Roosevelt.

== Can you spell "Itoldyouso"? ==
Find one other pundit who predicted this, in every detail. “Russia now claims the US missile strike on Syria largely failed — and that they've captured U.S. missile technology.”

== The Bald-Faced, Actual Difference in Outcomes ==
Finally someone able to see, and point that to the fact that a stereotype has no clothes.
Get this: Since 1977, the three presidential administrations that have overseen the deficit increases are the three Republican ones. President Trump’s tax cut is virtually assured to make him the fourth of four. And the three administrations that have overseen deficit reductions are the three Democratic ones, including a small decline under Barack Obama. If you want to know whether a post-1976 president increased or reduced the deficit, the only thing you need to know is his party.” - From The Democrats are the Party of Fiscal Responsibility, in the New York Times.
David Leonhardt gets it right without actually using my clear explication that it is the SecondDerivative of Debt – the rate of change of the rate of change – that shows the effects of an administration’s policies and the attitude of the party.  The popularized version is “gas pedal? Or brake?”
Republicans always hammer down on the former, democrats on the latter.  That’s always.  I mean always.  I mean abso-freaking-lutely every single time and always, always, always and always.  
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

The great beyond...

Contrary Brin - Tue, 05/15/2018 - 17:12
The Dark Energy Survey (DES)  has discovered 11 new streams of stars that originate from outside of our galaxy. These “stellar streams” (Asimov's "Currents of Space"?) are made up of the remnants of nearby clusters or dwarf galaxies, which were ripped or altered or destroyed by the gravity of the Milky Way. There are about 1,000 to 10,000 main sequence stars in each stream.

Yes, this is another review of recent news about SPACE!
So cool.  A video dive down into the Mutara… I mean, Orion… Nebula. Lower shields and enter at your own risk.
The Age of Amateurs at its best. An amateur astronomer catches (for the first time) a supernova in its early phase, alerting professionals to zero in and chart its youthful moments. We need all-sky awareness.
A research team examined 355 stars that had a total of 909 planets, which periodically transit across their faces (as seen from Earth). The planets are between 1,000 and 4,000 light-years away from Earth. They found that a system with a small planet would tend to have other small planets nearby — and vice-versa, with big planets tending to have big neighbors. These extrasolar systems also had regular orbital spacing between the planets.
In our own solar system, however, the story is very different. The four terrestrial planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars) are very widely spaced apart. The team pointed to evidence from other research that Jupiter and Saturn may have disrupted the structure of the young solar system.
Note that these samples are biased by a huge selection effect, favoring very close-in planets that might occult their stars along edge-on orbital planes (as seen from Earth.) Still, statistical techniques offer major – if tentative – insights.
Fascinating. By studying the microlensing properties of emission close to the event horizon of the supermassive black hole of a background quasar, astronomers set a lower limit to the density of rogue moons and planets in interstellar space in that galaxy at roughly 2000 per star.  Very rough!  But if that proves universal, there may be a lot of “stuff” out there between stars, helping explain why travel is difficult.
Talk of using pulsars as navigation beacons! Wow? Well, in fact… the pioneer plaque of the 1970s was based on exactly this. Look at the "spray pattern." The dots and dashes are time marks for each pulsar's period.  I attended a 1971 talk when Carl Sagan unveiled this, at Caltech!
The Kepler Mission was an inexpensive endeavor of NASA Ames Research Center that proved to be one of the most miraculous and cost-efficient scientific experiments of all time, expanding the number of extra-solar planets known from a couple of dozen to… thousands.  So when loss of one gyroscope seemed to doom the spacecraft, clever engineers found a way to salvage a lot of observing ability, using the pressure of sunlight to replace that gyroscope and help the remaining two, allowing Kepler to continue planet-hunting in 4.5 patches of sky, per year. The result? Another 300 or so planets!  Continuing this marvel till spectacular successor missions are ready.
We are mighty beings! Our explorations are more successful that anything else we do… than any estimation of the odds would seem to merit. Every discovery, from genome to Mars Rovers and Pluto missions to ever-improving weather models, to vanquishing diseases should swell your chest with pride. (Watch the end of
I assert that there may even be theological significance to these fantastic scientific wonders we're achieving. As if it's meant to be. Our purpose.
== A lunar station? ==
What is our future in space? Michio Kaku takes a bold look at The Future of Humanity: Transforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond Earth, which ranges over topics from AI and nanotechnology to astrophysics, terraforming and FTL, with a far-seeing eye on how we will survive as a species in a space-based civilization. Even so... there are those who oppose this vision....

Forget math in favor of dogma! “Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross talks about “turning the moon into a kind of gas station for outer space. The plan is to break down the ice [there] into hydrogen and oxygen, use those as the fuel propellant." Rockets would not need as much thrust leaving Earth if they only had to get to the moon, he said. "Then at the moon, you have very low gravity so you don't need so much thrust to go from the moon to Mars, for example, or another asteroid."
It sounds like something cool to help propel us forward with science, pragmatism and adventure, right?  Wrong. There are no levels and no ways that this makes sense, even slightly. This Republican fixation on “return to the moon” is a calamitous error and utter waste of time and resources. 

To be clear, I rejoiced when my friend and former boss James Arnold saw his theory proved true -- that there’s some ice in dark niches at the lunar poles. Indeed, a day may come when some lunar settlement or city might use that ice, recycling it carefully so that it lasts.  But that won’t happen if we squander it on making rocket fuel whose principal use is to blast out of the lunar gravity well.
Watch Republican eyes glaze over when you use… numbers, or terms like “delta V”; but here goes.  It takes 6.3 km/sec of velocity change to get from Low Earth Orbit (LEO) to the lunar surface, almost all of which must be done at high acceleration, with chemical rockets. No high efficiency ion engines or sails.  And that leaves out the penalty-cost of going to the lunar poles.  In contrast, the large population of NEOs or Near-Earth Asteroids can be reached with delta V of about 5.5 km/sec.  That’s a small but significant advantage to asteroids…
… that expands a lot when you then add in the cost of launching from the lunar surface. Again, with low efficiency chemical rocketry, whereas much of the transit to-from NEOs can be done by ion-drive or sail.  And note, from a typical NEO, the added delta V needed, to reach Mars, is only about 2 km/sec.
Now, you pay a price for the easy energetics to NEOs, and that cost is TIME. It can take a whole lot longer to reach asteroids, which is why we must develop excellent robotic systems, first to access the copious amounts of water there (vastly more than at the lunar poles), and later for the hundreds of trillions of dollars worth of mineral wealth out there, from iron (for use in space) to platinum and gold. (This is one reason why legacy Earth-resource moguls in the GOP are desperate to divert us to the Moon, because nothing there threatens their monopolies and sunk costs in Earthly mines.)
So yes, asteroid mining will be mostly robotic. The moon is a better place for humans to use the scanty lunar water for the one purpose Andy Weir's Artemis speculates that dustball is good for, in the near term… tourism.  

Leave the dusty surface to others (for now.) Elsewhere, I explain why a lunar ORBITAL station has huge utility – in at least five ways – and the U.S. should concentrate its manned efforts there, not on imitating Apollo landings.
But it is asteroids where tech billionaires foresee our future in space, all getting rich together out there. And NEOs will prepare us to utilize Phobos! Possibly one of the most valuable places in the Solar System and our real gateway to the Red Planet.
No, Wilbur Ross, we are not fooled by the fact that you schooled yourself to say words like “hydrogen” and “oxygen.” Your incantations still distill down to waging war on science, reason, ambition and the United States of America.
See my postings elsewhere about the issue of Trump's science adviser and the destruction of OSTP.  This article explored the turn back to the moon and the reporter published my response. Thoughts that I updated here.
Oh, we can accomplish anything, if we shrug off gloom. Here, Bill Gates reviews Pinker’s latest tome “Enlightenment Now,” a vigorous defense of our stunningly successful civilization, against the gloom merchants seeking to wreck citizen belief in ourselves. The only thing that will make a difference, over the long run.  

As I wrote in The Postman, by the way.
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

The Big Idea: Nicola Griffith

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 05/15/2018 - 10:36
Ever have that story that decides that now is the time it is going to be told, and you get to be the lucky person to tell it? Nicola Griffith does, and now her novel So Lucky is out in the world. Here she is to explain how the one led to the other. NICOLA […]

Taking the Week Off From the World

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 05/14/2018 - 09:38
Hey there, folks — Just a quick note to say that with the exception of a Big Idea post tomorrow, I’m going to be away from Whatever (and Twitter! and Facebook! and all of social media!) for a week. Why? a) I’m getting close to final deadline on The Consuming Fire, so I need to mostly […]

Happy Mother’s Day

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 05/13/2018 - 10:34
Hope it’s a lovely one. It is here.

The Velocity of Money… and Revolution

Contrary Brin - Sat, 05/12/2018 - 15:23
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If you’re perfectly comfy with the economy’s gyrations, then pay no attention as I explain what’s actually going on. Economists have been recognizing signs of serious dislocation for some time. Even right-of-center fellows like newsletter mavens John Mauldin and Lacy Hunt have finally recognized the core indications. I wish I could share their excellent newsletters with you. But – at some risk of misinterpreting or even treating them unfairly – I intend to paraphrase. And criticize.

A recent Mauldin missive correctly cites the most disturbing symptom of trouble in the U.S. economy: a plummet in Money Velocity (MV).
To quote John:  “You may be asking, what exactly is the velocity of money? Essentially, it’s the frequency with which the same dollar changes hands because the holders of the dollar use it to buy something. Higher velocity means more economic activity, which usually means higher growth. So it is somewhat disturbing to see velocity now at its lowest point since 1949, and at levels associated with the Great Depression.”
Somewhat… disturbing? That’s at-best an understatement, since no other economic indicator is as telling. MV is about a bridge repair worker buying furniture, that lets a furniture maker get dentures, so a dentist can pay her cleaning lady, who buys groceries….
There are rare occasions when MV can be too high, as during the 1970s hyper-inflation, when Jimmy Carter told Paul Volcker “Cure this, and to hell with my re-election.”  But those times are rare. Generally, for all our lives, Money Velocity has been declining into dangerous sluggishness, falling hard since the 80s, rising a little in the 90s, then plummeting.
Alas, while fellows like Hunt and Mauldin are at last pointing at this worrisome symptom, they remain in frantic denial over the cause. Absolutely, it is wealth disparity that destroys money velocity. Bridge repair workers and dentists would spend money – if they had any.
We have known - ever since Adam Smith gazed across the last 4000 years - that a feudal oligarchy does not invest in productive capacity. Nor does it spend much on goods or services that have large multiplier effects (that give middle class wage earners a chance to keep money moving). Instead, aristocrats have always tended to put their extra wealth into rentier (or passive rent-seeking) property, or else parasitic-crony-vampiric cheating through abuse of state power.
== Situation Normal: Cheating Flows Up ==
Do not let so-called “tea party” confederate lackeys divert you. The U.S. Revolution was against a King and Parliament and royal cronies who commanded all American commerce to pass through their ports and docks and stores, who demanded that consumer goods like tea be sold through monopolies and even paper be stamped to ensure it came from a royal pal. Try actually reading the Declaration of Independence. “Taxation without representation” was about how an oligarchy controlled Parliament through jiggered districts and cheating, and used that power to funnel wealth upward.
Here’s a fact that shows where we came from… and might be going: over a third of the land in the thirteen colonies was owned – tax-free – by aristocratic families.
The U.S. Founders fought back. After their successful revolt, they redistributed fully a quarter of the wealth and land, and they did it calmly, without the tsunami of blood that soon flowed in France, then Russia, then China. That militantly moderate style of revolution actually worked far better at fostering positive outcomes for all. For the people… and yes, for local aristocratic families, who retained comforts, some advantages. And their heads.
Nor was that the only time Americans had to push back against proto-feudal cheating, which we now know erupts straight out of human nature. The Civil War was certainly a massive ‘wealth redistribution’ by giving millions of people ownership of their own lives and bodies. During the 1890s Gilded Age, we avoided radical revolution in favor of reform – e.g. anti-trust laws.
Our parents in the Greatest Generation – who adored FDR – sought to prevent communism by keeping market enterprise flat, competitive and fair. Far less radical than the Founders, their reforms created the flattest social structure and the most fantastic burst of economic prosperity, ever.
And dismantling the work of that generation has been the core aim of the confederate aristocracy, since Reagan.
== Dire beasties! Debt and the Fed ==
But let me share with you more of the myopia of decent men. John Mauldin continues: “Debt is another big issue for Lacy Hunt. People compare debt to addictive drugs, and as with some of those drugs, the dose needed to achieve the desired effect tends to rise over time.”
John then shows a chart (he always has the best charts!) revealing the additional economic output (GDP) generated by each additional dollar of business debt in the US. Needless to say, the effectiveness of each dollar of debt, at growing healthy companies, has plummeted.
Um…. Duh? Once upon a time, the purpose of corporate debt was to gather capital to invest in new productive capacity (factories, stores, infrastructure and worker training), with an aim to sell more/better goods and services that would then produce healthy margins that pay off the debt, across a reasonable ROI (Return on Investment) horizon.
This would then actually decrease the net ratio of debt to company value, across a sapient period of a decade or so.  This approach still holds, in a few tech industries, but not wherever companies have been taken over by an MBA-CEO caste devoted to Milton Friedman’s devastating cult of the quarterly stock-price statement.
Today, companies borrow in order to finance stock buybacks, market-cornering mergers and other tricks that our ancestors (again, in the Greatest Generation or “GGs”) wisely outlawed. Tricks that GOP deregulatory "reforms" restored to the armory of cheaters. Tricks that enable the CEO caste to inflate stock prices and meet their golden incentive parachutes, with the added plum of pumping rewards for their Wall Street pals who arrange the debt. 

Every parasitic act of “arbitrage” is justified with semantically-empty incantations like “correct price determination” – mumbo-jumbo spells that bear absolutely zero correlation with reality.
No wonder each added dose of debt is ineffective at actually growing long-term company value! What’s so hard to understand? Why are Mauldin and Hunt puzzled? 
Oh, yeah. They are honest and sincere men, at last able to perceive symptoms. But alas, they are also far too stubborn to acknowledge the root disease -- a conspiratorial cabal of would-be feudal lords. Loyal to a fault... (well, these plutocratic connivers are their friends)… John and other residually-sapient conservatives choose denial over admitting that Adam Smith had it right, all along.
Instead, Mauldin focuses again and again on his chosen Bête Noir … the Federal Reserve, even though the Fed has almost insignificant power over any of the things we’ve discussed here.  It’s Congress – Republican for all but two of the last 23 years – who sent U.S. fiscal health plummeting, from black ink to red that’s deeper than an M Class dwarf star. Congress did this while devastating every protection against monopoly/duopoly or financial conspiracy.
== Misunderstanding your own icons and heroes ==
Consider that Friedrich Hayek – often touted as the “opposite to Keynes” – actually agreed with John Maynard Keynes about many things, like the need for a very wide distribution of economic decision-makers. In an ideal market, this would be all consumers, empowered with all information. (There goes Brin’s broken record, repeating “transparency!” over and over.) Though yes, a 21st Century Keynsian will call for a government role in (1) counter-cyclical stimulation and (2) inclusion of externalities, like the health of our children’s children and their planet. (Note the spectacular success of the greatest modern Keynsian politician, California's Jerry Brown.)
Hayek complained that 500,000 dispersed and closely watched civil servants could never substitute for the distributed wisdom of an unleashed marketplace of billions. Hm. Well, that’s arguable. But so?
What does the right offer up, as its alternative? A far, far smaller, incestuous cabal of a few hundred secretly-colluding golf buddies in a circle-jerking CEO caste? That’s gonna allocate according to widely-distributed market wisdom?
Hayek spins in his grave.
This selfsame CEO-caste went on a drunken debt spree that blatantly served the cabal and not their companies, nor the economy or civilization.
Blaming the Federal Reserve for that is like condemning the owners of a liquor store for all the drunk drivers crushing pedestrians. Sure, the low price of booze might have contributed, but it’s not the primal cause. Oh. And yes, it’s been Congress that keeps funneling wealth from the middle class into gaping, oligarchic maws.
== Some of these guys almost get it ==
How I wish I could share John Mauldin’s newsletter with you! It’s smart! I mean it. I always learn a lot, the charts are excellent. Moreover, I get self-pats on my own back, for assiduously reading the smartest commentators that I can find, from every side. Also, John’s a cool dude and way fun. I read every word and its maybe 70% real-smart stuff!
(For contrast, see the super-smart liberal “Evonomics” site; the place where Adam Smith is most-discussed and would be most at-home.)
Moreover, John does honestly acknowledge – forced by the blatantly obvious - that income and wealth disparities are problematic and rising, while money velocity plummets.
Only then he goes to the newest catechism of the rationalizing right… armwaving that technology is at fault. 
Yes, okay, automation has a depressing effect on middle class wages. So? Then it is time for a conversation about the social contract again. Like how to keep the middle class “bourgeois” – by keeping them vested in shared ownership of the means – as well as output – of production. It’s what the Greatest Generation did, while troglodytes accused them of “communism.” The most-entrepreneurial generation in history, they were far from commies.
== Some in-yer-face time ==
Okay, it’s that time again; so let me talk again directly to the confederate/feudal elites aiming to restore inherited hierarchies of old. This is no longer about Mauldin, but the would-be overlords standing right in front of him, in his blind spot.
Dear oligarch-traitors. Let me avow that human nature and history seem to be on your side. Our experiment in flat-fair-open systems always had the odds stacked against it. Hence, you feudalists will probably get your wish. Briefly. The middle class will very likely fall into proletarian poverty while you rake it all in.
Your evident plan is to leverage new technologies to entrench oligarchic rule, right? I depict something like it in EXISTENCE, though done by far smarter zillionaires than you.
Only – was it really part of the plan to wage open war on every single fact-using profession? Now including not just science and journalism and law, but the FBI, intelligence agencies and the military officer corps?  And all the folks who are innovating in genetics and artificial intelligence, too? Really? Are you that confident?
Or else, perhaps you are like so many past lords -- so lulled by sycophants that you cannot hear Karl Marx chuckling, as he rises from his mere-nap. (Copies of his works are flying off the shelves, faster than any time since the 1970s.) If so, you may get much more than you bargained for. More revolution than any sane person would want.
Adam Smith wasn’t the only one to seek a way out of this dilemma. Nor were the U.S. Founders. Will Durant – one of the greatest historians – said this, in his book, "The Lessons of History":

“In progressive societies the concentration (of wealth) may reach a point where the strength of number in the many poor rivals the strength of ability in the few rich; then the unstable equilibrium generates a critical situation, which history has diversely met by legislation redistributing wealth or by revolution distributing poverty.”
The recent “great” time for America was built by moderate, if somewhat leveling, legislation. The Greatest Generation chose a Rooseveltean alternative to violent revolution. And it worked -- inarguably, spectacularly -- till cheating once more gained the upper hand.
Me? I stand with the Founders. With Adam Smith and a flat-fair-open market society filled with opportunity for all and grand, cheat-advantages for none. A relatively-flat society that still has loads of incentives. One wherein true competition among healthy-confident equals can thrive, pouring a positive-sum cornucopia for everyone.
And now, yes, “equals” must include all previously-squelched sources of talent – genders, races and the raised-up/blameless children of the poor.
You confederates, you are the traitors to that flat-fair-open-accountable Better Capitalism. The form that stood up to Marx and quelled him to sleep. The only kind of market system that can withstand the coming wind, when he awakens.
I stand with the Greatest Generation… and greater ones to come.  

I stand with the moderate, scientific, flat-fair revolution that accepts facts and complexity and denies simplistic incantations. Moreover, that moderate/calm/eclectic kind of revolutionary numbers in the tens… hundreds of millions. We include nearly all of the most-skilled, and our growing cadre hears the alarum.
We awaken. We rise. And you had better welcome this. Because it will either be our reforms or the tumbrels of Robespierres.
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

Reader Request Week 2018 #10: Short Bits

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sat, 05/12/2018 - 14:26
And now, to wrap up Reader Request Week 2018, short takes on some of the questions I didn’t otherwise get to: Laura: A topic I’ve been pondering is to what extent the proliferation of entertainment & informational choices — Internet, cable TV, smart phones — is an overall boon or blessing to society. Were we actually […]

Reader Request Week 2018 #9: Writing Short Bits

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sat, 05/12/2018 - 11:28
And now, for your delight, short answers to some of the writing-and-writing-life-related questions I got this year for Reader Request Week: jlanstey: Having acquired a new office chair, thoughts on furniture and home interior design generally. Some classic SF writers (Heinlein, Laumer) seemed to prefer stark modern, but glimpses of your abode and one picture I’ve […]

New Books and ARCs, 5/11/18

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 05/11/2018 - 15:57
Another Friday, another tasty stack of new books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound. I see some very fine work in this one — what here is catching your attention? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Reader Request Week 2018 #8: Public Speaking

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 05/11/2018 - 10:58
Gregory asks: I’m curious about your ‘public speaking’ role. I know you have representation and are available for events. I would like to know things like what advice do you have for other folk who don’t do much public speaking? Do you have any formal training? Why should somebody pay to hear you speak? What’s […]

Reader Request Week 2018 #7: Mortality

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 05/10/2018 - 12:59
Well, this is a sort of ironic question to address on my birthday, from Theo, who asks: Do you think about mortality frequently or do you try to put it out of your mind? Do you think it’s better to ignore it or jam pack as much as you can into every minute with one […]

Happy Birthday to Me, Here’s a Story For You: “Regarding Your Application Status”

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 05/10/2018 - 10:27
When I went out on tour for Head On last month, I wrote a new, funny short story to perform for the audiences, on the thinking that since they went out of their way to come see me, usually on a weeknight, they should get something special that no one else gets: in this case, […]


Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 05/10/2018 - 09:19
Wait, I’m almost done with my 40s already?  As most of you know every year on my birthday I take a picture of myself, a sort of “state of the Scalzi” photo. This is this year’s, brought about in part by the fact that my allergies have picked this very day to kick in and […]

The dilemma - cars and guns

Contrary Brin - Wed, 05/09/2018 - 22:44
== Again, why aren’t guns treated like cars? ==
Ponder a stark contrast. We have two examples of how America facilitates possession of potentially lethal machinery in the hands of citizens. Deadly tools that can be owned by almost any adult.

In one case, there are more than two hundred million users, who operate the machines with stunning skill, aiming them to just barely miss each other, hundreds of times per day. They license and register the machines and get insurance.
Yes, thousands of lives are lost to these potentially lethal machines! But if you divide that toll by the sheer number of hours of use, then by the economic benefits and life satisfaction that folks get from mobility, then the pain is thinly distributed. So thinly that the social consensus is: "Let's keep researching ways to refine the regulations and improve the technology to make them safer, but let's keep using them.
"This is working."
The other class of potentially lethal machinery accounts for almost exactly the same number of deaths per year! 

Dig it - that's a "wow" realization. Almost exactly the same number of deaths. Even though the second class of dangerous tool is used far, far less often, especially when it comes to "self-protection." 

The ratio of deaths per hour of use is incomparably higher for guns than cars. Like contrasting a mouse to a planet.

What are the crucial differences?
Oh, sure, one major aspect of the difference of lethality is intent. I get that. But pragmatically, the stunning difference is our attitudes toward what's reasonable regulation.

In one case there are regulations concerning training, insurance and liability (not just by user-owners but also manufacturers) that successfully reduce risk while enhancing utility. 

In the other case, none of this risk/harm/liability mitigation happens. At all. Whatsoever. Institutions are forbidden to even study the tradeoffs. Knowledge itself is dogmatically banned.
== Two types of dangerous machinery. Two opposite outcomes ==

The experiment has been run. Cars are regulated with spectacular success, at all levels and in all ways. Even the DMV runs far better, nowadays, in most states.
A huge burden of proof falls upon those who proclaim that Guns should not be treated exactly like cars. At all levels and in all ways. And yes, if you want an assault rifle, fine... take extra tests and insurance like the driver of an 18-wheeler.
There is only one justification for refusing to go along with this simple and logical approach. The Slippery Slope to Total Confiscation of Firearms by an Orwellian State. (SSTTCFOS). 

That's it. That is the sum total of the argument against changing the DMV to the DMV&G. "I don't want my guns registered, insured and licensed because then the state will know where they are and come and take 'em."

Whereupon I shock folks by saying... I agree! 

SSTTCFOS is an actual concern! There is a germ of a genuine objection, deep down, underneath the NRA-fomented hysteria, and liberals are foolish to dismiss it, out of hand.  In fact, I favor some steel-hard protections of Americans' "insurrectionary recourse."
The criminal stupidity of gun nuttery is not that they fret about SSTTCFOS. 

It is their refusal to look for a win-win. A positive-sum outcome

I describe one possible solution -- that could give all of us what we want and need -- here. Alas, no one seems interested in talk of a potential win-win-win.

== A useful metaphor ==

One of you (out there in the Brin-o-centric ether ;-) made the following, amazingly cogent observation:

"Gun advocates maintain that any law that infringes an American's right to bear arms is unconstitutional. Only note:

"While the constitution guarantees the right to vote, we do place restrictions on the right to vote: citizens are required to register ( and change their registration when they move). There are rules about where citizens may vote - and when they can vote. And gerrymandering can weaken an individual's vote."

And indeed, in Red America there are huge efforts to regulate away voting rights for millions. Talk about a slippery slope!  But this comparison's true meaning is simple. Rights do not have to go un-regulated in matters of process. You can wave picket signs on sidewalks and in parks, but not in the street or blocking businesses, yet we still have freedom of speech.

Again, I GET the slippery slope that gun activists fear!  I actually share that strong worry and reservation! 

But they are as shortsighted as lemmings. If you want to see how to prevent any slippery slope and get a win-win...

== Another - even better - "win-win" ==


Again and again.

Here's the Fact Act.

It should be item number one, if the dems ever had the sense to imitate the one and only political action taken by Republicans in 30 years that was worthy of respect. Newt Gingrich's "Contract With America."

== An idea whose time has come? ==

Years ago I proposed we copy a technique used two millennia ago, to discourage male morons from committing heinous acts in exchange for infamy. The idea was pooh-poohed and ignored for two decades... untill Parkland.

Suddenly, the notion of denying these awful twerps the spotlight has be called-out by columnists who act as if they invented the idea.  It's actually the "Erastratos Effect," and here's where you can see it worked out... how we can keep total freedom to know and speak, while still deterring these jerks, by denying them any noteworthy mention in history.

Follow-up essays:

Names of Infamy: Deny Killers the Notoriety They Seek.

The Jefferson Rifle: Seeking a Compromise Solution.

. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

Reader Request Week 2018 #6: The Fall(?!?!?) of Heinlein

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 05/09/2018 - 14:59
Here’s a question sure to be fun for everyone! Gottacook asks: Does it seem to you that consciousness of Robert Heinlein as a singularly influential SF writer has precipitously faded in the past several years? (Not that this would be a surprise, as the 30th anniversary of his death is next week.) Well, and I […]

Reader Request Week 2018 #5: Who’s Cool and Who’s Not

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 05/09/2018 - 11:54
Kaci asks: Having just read the Twitter post, I’d really like to know your theory of coolness and why some people will never be cool. She’s referring to this Twitter conversation between me and the Washington Post columnist Alyssa Rosenberg: Not everything has to be cool. Coolness is overrated. — Alyssa Rosenberg (@AlyssaRosenberg) May 7, […]

Reader Request Week 2018 #4: Far-Left(?) Scalzi

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 05/08/2018 - 13:20
Calven13 asks: This question would invite all sorts of dumbshittery, I get that, but: how do you suppose a cottage industry in attacking you for being ‘far left’ became a thing? There are actual far left authors they could go after, it’s not like Steven Brust or China Mieville aren’t outspoken. Yeah, but China (wisely) […]

Reader Request Week 2018 #3: The Reputational Reset, Or Not

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 05/08/2018 - 11:17
Here’s a question from email, from a contributor who asked to remain anonymous (which is one reason, I suppose, it came in email): If you fuck up, how long should you have to spend in the wilderness before you’re allowed to come back? I mean, I think it depends, don’t you? I suspect this question […]

Reader Request Week 2018 #2: Our Pets and How We Treat Them

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 05/07/2018 - 15:54
Sugar, daintily holding up one paw. — The Scamperbeasts (@scamperbeasts) April 28, 2018 Bill asks: Given the attachment we humans tend to have with our pets, how do we rationalize the treating them as commodities, food, or things (rather than beings)? I mean, Bill, I hate to be the one to break it to […]
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